‘To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another,
James Joyce referred to literary critics as literary crickets (having being annoyed often enough by them). A critic who has no taste or style or identity of his or her own will try to build an identity by being critical of another’s work. Anyone can be such a cricket, not just in regard to books but in regard to life itself. Nothing pleases us, everything is wrong. It may be a throw-back to childhood, that time when we experienced our own extreme poverty in every direction.
I knew a bishop years ago who never said yes. He always said either No or nothing. If he made no reply to your letter you knew that you could go ahead with your project – but on your own responsibility; if your project backfired, the bishop could denounce it without being implicated in the failure. 'No' looks like a safe place, but so is the grave. To be alive is to say yes to many things, and to say yes is to take a risk. If you refuse to take risks you are acting dead and you can be of no service to life. The minimum of yes-saying is to be capable of being pleased. Below this minimum, to use Jesus' image, we are like children in a sulk.
But sometimes you meet human beings who really lift your spirit. I notice that they are very often people who have suffered a lot. It makes sense: the word ’to suffer’ means ’to allow’. When a person has suffered he or she has allowed life to get at them. It is true that suffering sometimes makes people hard and bitter; but when it has had the opposite effect on someone, that person is a joy to meet. An old man in Cork said to me with a laugh, “If it wasn’t for all the bad luck I had, I’d have no luck at all!”
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